Then I turned my thoughts to consider wisdom,
and also madness and folly.
What more can the king’s successor do
than what has already been done?
I saw that wisdom is better than folly,
just as light is better than darkness.
The wise have eyes in their heads,
while the fool walks in the darkness;
but I came to realise
that the same fate overtakes them both.
Then I said to myself,
‘The fate of the fool will overtake me also.(Eccl. 2:12-16 NIV)
What then do I gain by being wise?’
I said to myself,
‘This too is meaningless.’
For the wise, like the fool, will not be long remembered;
the days have already come when both have been forgotten.
Like the fool, the wise too must die!
The spectre of death hovers in the background in these verses. ‘Persistent angst is what sets in when you stare at all that the grave takes from us so ruthlessly.’ But who wants to contemplate the day of their death all the time, would that not lead to a miserable existence? The French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal said, ‘As men have not been able to cure death, misery, or ignorance, they have taken to not thinking about them so as to become happy.’ We fill up our lives with other things.
The teacher finds that wisdom is better than folly just as light is better than darkness. The wise can use wisdom to direct their path but the fool walks in the darkness and has no thought about where he is going. Having been through the Psalms, we already understand that the wise way is the righteous way and this is pleasing to God. The foolish way is sinful and leads to destruction. The teacher acknowledges that wisdom is superior to folly. The surprising twist is that the teacher points out that both the wise and the foolish end up dead. This is hebel. In just a few short years both the wise and the foolish will be forgotten. Where is the gain in being wise? If both end up with the same fate then what difference does it make how we live our lives
The problem with life is that it ends with death. All the investments in pleasure, gain, riches and laughter will all vanish like a bubble bursting.
Does that mean that there is no pleasure for us, that we shouldn’t work hard at our job? Does it mean that education is a waste of time or that we shouldn’t bother trying to gain wisdom? I think we are quite correct to start to ask these questions. It seems the obvious thing to do to start pulling the teacher’s argument apart, because the line of travel doesn’t seem to make sense. We’re right to ask the questions, but the teacher is not quite ready to answer them. We need a little bit more convincing that he is on to something. While his argument seems strange and we automatically want to resist what he is saying, we feel we need to be patient because after all this is God’s word. We will have to just work harder to understand what God is saying.
Lord we thank You for every day of life that You have given us. Life is precious to us. We have family and friends that we love and we want to continue to enjoy their company. We know that eventually we will go the way of every person, we will have to die. We live with a tension of seeing what Paul said, that he desired to be with Christ but that he wanted to remain to help the Lord’s people. Lord I desire to be with Christ, but I still take my medication every day. Help us through these studies to find the solution to that tension and for the thoughts about the day of our death to be a good influence upon us, because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.